To Take On – or Not – Extra Work

Do you ever have one of those days when you can’t remember what you were hired to do? I mean, sure, somewhere back in the beginnings of time you had a clear job description and routine, but now you’re seemingly tasked with everything from reordering coffee and paper towels to writing the annual report.

Over time, you’ve accreted duties like dust bunnies under the fridge. Seeking out (or being asked to take on) extra responsibilities shows that you’re a top performer – but you’ll get overwhelmed if you say yes to everything. How many of your new duties are advancing your career, and how many are just sucking away your time? It may be time to take a good look at your workday and rearrange your job description.

Face it, you’re good at your job

Maybe your boss has asked you to take on extra duties because she admires the job you’ve been doing already. Maybe you like to challenge yourself, so you’ve sought out the additional responsibilities. Maybe you want to be a team player, so you have a hard time saying no to any request.

Showing initiative can pay off with a promotion or raise, and working hard in order to reach your goals is admirable – but be careful about working yourself to the edge of burnout. If you find yourself making a bed in the break room and eating meals at your desk, it’s time to review.

Is everything on your plate helping you work towards your goals? Or are some tasks holding you back?

And how do you figure out which ones are which?

What’s your measuring stick?

To figure out which duties are advancing your career and which are scuttling it, create a personal scoring rubric. Without a guide, it can be impossible to know which responsibilities are fantastic opportunities, and which should be passed over – everything can seem equally exciting.

  • Does this task affect your primary job responsibilities?
  • Is this task far below your normal skill levels?
  • Can only you complete this task? (You can teach someone else how to order coffee, right?)
  • Are you passionate about it?
  • Are you learning from it?
  • Is it actually someone else’s (or another department’s) responsibility?
  • Does it increase your visibility within the organization, and expand your network?

Paring down

When considering whether to take on new work (or taking a look at your current responsibilities), use your personal rubric to figure out what responsibilities you should say no to. Decide what your most important criteria are, and score each new opportunity against it.

If the responsibility is only going to burn you out without helping you meet your career goals, try to come up with a solution for getting it done, rather than just saying no. Can you offer to help train another coworker on the task, for example?

Creating boundaries and sticking with them doesn’t just protect your time and energy, it allows you to prioritize doing the job at hand.

How do you decide what opportunities to take on? I’d love to hear your own personal rubrics!

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Hannah Moss

Your idea about training another coworker is a great one! Sometimes you have to say ‘no’ to requests, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help. My general rule-of-thumb is to always say “No, but…”. In other words, never just refuse a task without offering the requester some assistance in getting the task completed by another route. In fact, pointing someone to a more appropriate person, department, or resource can often be more helpful than simply taking the job on yourself.

Jessie Kwak

That’s perfectly said, Hannah! Learning to facilitate getting tasks done can be way more helpful than just taking on everything yourself.